Instant Pot Chicken Tamales: Step By Step for Beginners

Instant Pot Chicken Tamales: Step By Step for Beginners

Make homemade Instant Pot chicken tamales with this easy step by step process

Learn how to make these pressure cooker tamales for beginners in six simple, easy steps! With a helpful step by step video and photos, you’ll be a pro at making tamales before you know it. These green chile tamales are made with anaheim and/or poblano peppers. You’ll also learn to how to store and freeze any extra tamales you might have.

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If you’ve never made tamales before, you’re missing out! They are the perfect combination of indulgent, yet not too filling, and the perfect main dish/also an appetizer if you want it to be. Tamales are just so versatile and I think that’s why I love them so much. And of course, the amazing flavor.

While tamales can seem overwhelming, they are so worth it! I’m going to walk you through every single step – this is a tamale recipe for beginners – so you feel confident making tamales at home. I’ll also share some other popular filling combinations that you can try once you master the basics of tamales.

A Little Bit About Tamales

Tamales have been around for thousands of years. In fact, because of this, people have created hundreds of varieties and flavors. Each state, region, and even every family has its own recipe and traditions for making tamales.

Although tamales are made for many special occasions like Christmas and Day of the Dead, they are a well know street food. Meaning, they are a great grab and go treat!

And just so you know the correct terminology, if you’re talking about one tamale it’s actually called a ‘tamal’ vs two tamales is ‘tamales’. And, if you’re having a party for assembling tamales, it’s called a ‘tamalada’.

Step One: Make Tamale Masa

Masa is the outside, tender dough that keeps the tamale fillings nice and secure. The key to a good masa is having a light, flavorful, and fluffy texture.

You’ll need a few ingredients to make your masa including lard, masa harina (instant corn masa flour), salt, baking powder, and chicken broth. If you have a local Mexican or international grocery store near you, I’d encourage you to purchase your products from there. However, they are also available online if you can’t find them in a store near you.

The lard plays a big role in the flakiness and tenderness of the tamales, similar to the butter that makes your pie crust flaky. During the masa making process, be sure to give your lard time to whip up and become fluffy. A hand mixer or stand mixer is going to be essential for this step. Cut the mixing time short, and your product might not come out as good.

Once you’re done making the masa, you’ll need to test it to see if you have the right consistency. The mixture should resemble smooth peanut butter. You can always add additional chicken broth a tablespoon at a time if your mixture seems too dry. Just be careful not to over-do it.

Once you think you’ve got the correct consistency, test the masa by dropping ½ teaspoon into a cup of warm water. If it floats it is ready! If it sinks, add a tablespoon more lard, beat for an additional 2 minutes, and test it again. Repeat, as needed, until the masa floats.

In case you are low on time, the masa can be prepped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Be sure to allow the masa to come to room temperature before assembling your tamales.

RELATED POST: How to Serve Tamales

Step Two: Soak Corn Husks

Corn husks are an essential part of the tamales. We basically build our whole tamale inside the corn husk.

To prepare your corn husks for stuffing, fill a large pot or sink with warm water. Place the corn husks in the water, and weigh down with a heavy object. Allow the corn husks to soak for at least one hour so they become pliable.

Keep the tamales submerged in water until you’re ready to assemble. Soaking longer than an hour is completely fine (it won’t hurt them). You’ll just run into an issue if you don’t soak the corn husks long enough, as they won’t be pliable and able to be wrapped. So be prepared and think ahead!

Before you’re ready to start putting your tamales together, I’d also suggest that you individually rinse off each corn husks to remove any excess dirt, dust, or fibers. It seems tedious, but it’s worth the work for a superior product.

RELATED POST: How to Cook Mexican Chorizo


Step Three: Cook Chicken in the Instant Pot

Now, it’s time to make the Instant Pot chicken tamale filling! When it comes to fillings, you have hundreds of ideas, just depending on your mood (I’ll link of my favorite options below). For this recipe, we’re making a filling with chicken and anaheim peppers and/or poblano peppers. The best part about this recipe: we’re making the protein and the sauce for our tamale fillings in the Instant Pot all in under 25 minutes!!

Make sure to use the Instant Pot steamer rack trivet during this process. It helps keep the chicken nice and juicy. All we do is allow the chicken and sauce components to cook on high pressure for 15 minutes, then vent naturally for an additional ten minutes. SO EASY!


Other Tamale Fillings To Try

Once you master the basics of tamale making, you can try mixing up the types of fillings in each tamale. Here are some great options to try:

  • Red pork tamales

  • Chicken chile verde

  • Veggie tamales with corn, zucchini, beans (great vegetarian option)

  • Chicken mole

  • Green chile & cheese (great vegetarian option)

  • Chorizo

  • Carne de puerco

  • Refried beans, cheese, pepper (great vegetarian option)

RELATED POST: Simple Chorizo Street Tacos


Step Four: Prep the Tamale Filling

Now that we have the Intant Pot chicken all cooked, it’s time to get the final filling put together!

First, shred the chicken. My favorite “hack” is shredded my chicken with a stand mixer. Just add the paddle attachment on the stand mixer, and mix on medium speed for a few seconds until everything is shredded. Once it’s all shredded, finely chop the chicken using a knife, so it’s nice and fine, then set to the side.

Next, we’re going to make the sauce. Be sure NOT to discard anything from the Instant Pot until after this step.

Remove anaheim peppers and or poblano peppers, onion, and garlic from the Instant Pot and add to a blender, along with 1/2 cup of chicken stock from the Instant Pot. Add in a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of chipotle sauce. Blend together until everything is smooth. Add to the finely chopped chicken and thoroughly mix together.

Now, set this aside & let’s get ready to assemble our tamales!

Step Five: Assemble the Tamales

Now for the fun part – assembly time! Before you even start assembling anything, you’ll want to get your station set up. Have your corn husks (both the full corn husks and thin strips of corn husk), masa, and chicken filling surrounding you. Make sure your counter is cleaned – it’s easiest to work straight off of the counter. Also, I like to have a putty knife or masa spreader ready (you’ll see why in a minute).

I also like to have a 9×13 dish sitting by my station so I can prop my finished tamales up on after I’m done wrapping.

  1. Grab a corn husk and position it with the wide end pointed down.

2. Using a putty knife, masa spreader, or wooden spoon, spread about 2-3 tablespoons of the masa on the corn husk. Leave a two inch gap on the top, narrow part of the corn husk.

3. Spoon in 2 tablespoons of chicken onto the center of the masa. Place a matchstick of cheese next to the chicken.

4. Then, fold both sides of the masa together, so it seals the meat and cheese inside.

5. Wrap the excess corn husk around the tamale.

6. Then, flip the narrow end up so nothing will fall out of the tamale.

7. Secure the tamale by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamale.

Continue this process until you run out of masa/chicken. Feel free to grab a friend to help out with this, it makes things go faster!

Step Six: Steam the Tamales

Now that you’re done with the hard part, it’s time to steam the tamales & eat. I’d encourage you to wash out the Instant Pot so you’re starting out with a clean bowl.

Once again, place the Instant Pot steamer rack trivet on the bottom of the pot. Pour in one cup of chicken broth. Place a few corn husks on top of the trivet to keep the tamales from falling through. Stand tamales upright in the Instant Pot, leaning against the side of the pot as needed.

Then, cook for 40 minutes on high pressure, and allow it to naturally vent for 10 minutes. Once the tamales come out of the Instant Pot, allow them to stand for an additional 20 minutes. You know they’ll be ready to eat once the masa has firmed up enough for you to cleanly pull off the corn husk.

Now it’s time to serve up your Instant Pot chicken tamales! Check out my favorite tamale toppings and side dishes.

Instant Pot Anaheim Pepper Chicken Tamales

Learn how to make these pressure cooker tamales for beginners in six simple, easy steps! With a helpful step by step video and photos, you'll be a pro at making tamales before you know it. These green chile tamales are made with anaheim and/or poblano peppers.
Prep Time40 mins
Cook Time55 mins
Venting/Resting Time40 mins
Total Time2 hrs 15 mins
Course: Appetizer, Main Course
Cuisine: Mexican
Servings: 24 medium tamales

Ingredients

For the Masa

  • 1 cup lard room temperature
  • 1 pound (4 cups) masa harina like Maseca
  • 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth room temperature

For the Tamales

  • 1 pound corn husks
  • 2 cup low sodium chicken broth divided
  • 1.75 pounds chicken breasts
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons chipotle sauce divided
  • 5 medium anaheim peppers de-stemmed and de-seeded (alternatively you can use poblano peppers or a mixture of anaheim & poblano)
  • 1 medium onion quartered
  • 5 cloves garlic smashed, paper removed
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 24 ounces white cheddar cheese cut in 3 inch long x 1/2 inch wide matchsticks

Instructions

For the Masa

  • In a stand mixer fixed with the paddle attachment, mix lard on medium speed until it becomes fluffy, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl as needed throughout this process.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together masa, salt, and baking powder.
  • Slowly add in ⅓ of the masa, and continue beating on medium speed. Slowly stream in ⅓ of the chicken broth. Repeat this process until everything is combined. Once fully combined, allow the mixture to beat on medium speed for an additional 2 minutes to make everything nice and fluffy.
    The mixture should resemble smooth peanut butter. If the masa appears dry, add in more chicken broth a tablespoon at a time. Once you think you’ve got the correct consistency, test the masa by dropping ½ teaspoon into a cup of warm water. If it floats it is ready! If it sinks, add a tablespoon more lard, beat for an additional 2 minutes, and test it again. Repeat, as needed, until the masa floats.

For the Tamales

  • Prepare the Corn Husks: Fill a large pot or sink with warm water. Place the corn husks in the water, and weigh down with a heavy object. Allow the corn husks to soak for at least one hour so they become pliable.
  • Cook the Instant Pot Chicken: Place the Instant Pot steamer rack trivet on the bottom of the pot. Pour in one cup of chicken broth. Place the chicken breasts on top of the trivet. Sprinkle chicken with 1 teaspoon of salt, then add in 2 tablespoons of chipotle sauce, anaheim peppers (or poblano peppers), onion, and garlic cloves, and bay leaves.
  • Close the Instant Pot lid and make sure the valve is set to 'sealing.' Press the manual/pressure cook button, and set the cook time for 15 minutes at high pressure. Once pressure cooking is complete, allow to naturally vent for an additional 10 minutes (no need to touch anything on the Instant Pot, just let it sit).
  • Remove chicken and place on a cutting board. Finely chop chicken with a sharp knife. Set aside.
  • Remove anaheim peppers, onion, and garlic from the Instant Pot and add to a blender, along with 1/2 cup of chicken stock from the Instant Pot. Add in a pinch of salt and 1 tablespoon of chipotle sauce. Blend together until everything is smooth. Add to the finely chopped chicken and thoroughly mix together.
  • Assemble the Tamales: Rinse the corn husks to remove any dirt or extra fibers. Place a handful of corns husks on a kitchen towel to drain before using.
  • Grab a corn husk and the room temperature masa. Position the corn husk with the wide end pointed down. Using a wooden spoon, spread about 2-3 tablespoons of the masa on the corn husk. Leave a two inch gap on the top, narrow part of the corn husk.
  • Spoon in 2 tablespoons of chicken onto the center of the masa. Place a matchstick of cheese next to the chicken. Then, fold both sides of the masa together, so it seals the meat and cheese inside. Wrap the excess corn husk around the tamale, then flip the narrow end up so nothing will fall out of the tamale. Secure the tamale by tying a thin strip of corn husk around the tamale. Continue this process until you run out of masa/chicken.
  • Steam the Tamales: Place the Instant Pot steamer rack trivet on the bottom of the pot. Pour in one cup of chicken broth. Place a few corn husks on top of the trivet to keep the tamales from falling through. Stand tamales upright in the Instant Pot, leaning against the side of the pot as needed. Press the manual/pressure cook button, and set the cook time for 40 minutes at high pressure. Once pressure cooking is complete, allow to naturally vent for an additional 10 minutes (no need to touch anything on the Instant Pot, just let it sit). Then, turn the valve to venting to release any additional pressure. Remove the tamales and allow to stand for 20 minutes before serving.

Notes

Storage: Store already steamed tamales in the fridge for up to one week. 
Freezing: Store unsteamed tamales in the freezer for up to three months in an airtight container or bag. Alternatively, you can individually wrap each tamale in cling wrap, and place in an airtight ziplock bag.
When you’re ready to eat, steam according to the directions in the recipe. No need to thaw before steaming. 
Masa Prep: In case you are low on time, the masa can be prepped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Be sure to allow the masa to come to room temperature before assembling your tamales.

Tamale Resources & Videos

I love watching videos that showcase the tradition and culture behind tamales. Check out some of these great resources to learn more about the traditional way to prepare tamales.

Traditional tamales made completely by hand (they even grind the corn themselves).

Many families host tamaladas with their families. Please somebody invite me to one – this would be so much fun!

This chef makes thousands of tamales a day to feed the people of New York.

I love the Street Food Icons series from Munchies. Here they showcase the $1.00 Tamale Queen of New York.

Learn about making Mexican tamales from the experts.

LET’S SHARE RECIPES

I love trying new recipes! Let’s discover new recipes together on Pinterest!

P.S. If you made these Instant Pot chicken tamales, share a picture with me on Instagram using #HomebodyEats. I love seeing your creations!!



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